Birds and Bees, Beware: New York’s Anti-Pesticide Bill Will Backfire 

Despite the best intentions, an effort to ban powerful bug-killing chemicals will harm environmentalists, farmers, and consumers alike.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Bees at Cypress Flower Farm on August 6, 2014 at Moss Beach, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Through recently passed legislation, the New York state legislature aims to abolish certain insecticides in defense of the “birds and bees.” 

The chemicals in question, called neonicotinoids, are commonly used in crop production to shield crops from undesired insects — including aphids, which spread the beet yellows virus. 

Lawmakers have been convinced by environmental activist groups that these products kill large swaths of pollinators, and should thus be banned for use by farmers in the state. 

Yet they’ve been misled. If the Birds and Bees Protection Act is signed into law by Governor Hochul, the effects on farmers will be severe, and pesticide use in the Empire State will only increase.

Like most poor public policy, the Birds and Bees Protection Act is built on faulty premises and a feel-good name. The statistics on pollinator decline and colony collapse disorder have long been falsely associated with the use of insecticides. 

Before insecticides were blamed for “killing the bees,” it used to be bioengineered food that was in the crosshairs of activists. 

This assumption was never backed up by evidence, and administrations on both sides of the aisle have come to recognize the incredible climate mitigation and efficiency opportunities associated with genetically engineered food. 

Bees are mostly affected by viruses and habitat loss. While it is possible for regional declines to occur, it is important to note that the honeybee population is well managed, and in no way threatened by extinction. 

The size of the honeybee population is one of the causes of threats to other bee species, and has researchers frustrated by the misguided attention brought solely onto neonics. Effects on non-managed — or wild — bees are harder to count because they are… wild, and thus hard to count. 

Significant problems exist with the methodology applied to identify declines in wild bees. The same flawed methods have been applied to prove a broader insect decline, which also have also been consistently debunked.

It’s impossible to ignore the demography behind legislation like the so-called Birds and Bees Protection Act. 

City-dwelling liberals have a rather romanticized understanding of food production and ecosystem management based on their knack for beekeeping in relatively small backyard gardens. 

Rural communities who produce and manage New York’s food supply, as well as its vital relationship to pollinators, do in fact know better. We’ve already seen how this plays out based on neonics bans in Europe which backfired on farmers, consumers and pollinators alike.

In the European Union, several countries implemented exemptions on neonic bans after they were close to ruining local farmers. The European exemption policy is not just nerve-wracking for all involved actors, it also gives farmers no certainty for the future. 

The Birds and Bees Protection Act circumvents regulatory agencies by banning the products outright, then requires those agencies to make lengthy determinations on appropriate emergency use. It is a cumbersome process that isn’t fair to farmers.

Cutting out regulatory agencies from the process was notably why Governor Newsom of California vetoed a bill that would have similarly banned neonics for non-agricultural use late last year.

Advocates for pollinators mean well, but don’t understand agriculture. One of the known effects of neonics bans in Europe has been that farmers turn to alternative types of chemicals to shield their crops. It has been shown that the use of substitute products reduces their yield and increases insect resistance — all factors that end up being worse for the environment and biodiversity. 

Are we telling farmers that they should acquire more land to account for crop losses, or use products that are sometimes ill-equipped to adequately protect their fields? 

That would be grim news for the over 25,000 farm employees in New York State, who rely on stable yields and a toolbox of reliable methods to protect their farms from invasive species. 

If yields aren’t guaranteed, then we could — as happened in France — expect rising prices in the crop production sector. For New Yorkers already eating the cost of rapid inflation, agricultural regulation of this sort is not responsible. 

Legislation should require more than a noble sounding name and good intentions to become law, and the Birds and Bees Protection Act offers nothing more than that. 

The New York Sun

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